Monday, 22 May 2017

A Simple Week

by: Mr Robot

I know we're extremely late to this party but earlier in the year we finally picked up a copy of Simple by Diana Henry, which is every bit as good as everyone says it is. Normally I'll pick one or two recipes to start with and slowly expand from there, but with Simple that was a hopeless task so in the end I had no choice but to devote a whole week to the thing.

So here are my six dishes (for, of course, on the seventh day He rested in the Pub).

Monday - Black Linguine with Squid & Spicy Sausage
Or, as it turned out, A Study In White since it turns out black pasta isn't a thing in darkest yokelshire. Which is a cursed shame because the dish looked much less dramatic but nonetheless tasted brilliant.

Now, I've never dabbled with squid before (one of the reasons I was so keen to do this recipe) but it's an exceptionally easy process and Henry is so blase about it, I had approached with confidence - and was rewarded by not cocking it up.

Fried off with our butcher's excellent Italian sausages and garlic, doused with lemon and parsley, and then tossed in pasta we ended up with a very light but hugely satisfying Monday dinner. In fact just writing this I count myself a buffoon for not doing it every week since.

Tuesday - Baked Sweet Potato, Chorizo, Mushrooms and Egg
Mainly because the vegbox was swamping us with sweet potato at the time, but also I could get a job lot of chorizo from Joe Le Butcher and partly because Mrs R has always found mushrooms challenging. Plus, it has A Egg on it.

This one, sadly, I did cock up in two ways:
1. I didn't give enough thought to the warning that the cooking time of sweet potatoes is variable, and
2. I did it on a night Mrs R was out on the lash so would turn up loudly demanding satisfaction, and demanding it now damnit.

Consequently my sweet 'taters, having roasted for only 50% longer than suggested, were still as hard as Vinnie Jones (this was also, incidentally, the final straw for the old cooker). So there was a fair amount of prodding and grumbling BUT the filling was a delight.

Fried chorizo will never make anyone sad and mixed up with mushroom, garnished with coriander and paprika, swimming in runny yolk was outstanding.

I kind of wish I'd left the sodding potatoes in the oven all night and served it for breakfast as I'm sure it'd be excellent with hangover.

Wednesday - Baked Sausages with Apples, Raisins and Cider

Look, if I have to explain it you'll never understand.

Just awesome. The only thing the title doesn't tell you is the raisins are soaked brandy. I know!

Beyond that it is exactly as amazing as it sounds. I'm actually kind of incoherent just remembering it, especially as the weather was perishing cold and this combined all the sausagey comfort of a toad in the hole, with the sweet/sharp apple promise that summer will be back before too long.

I served it up with some roasted (effing) sweet potato, baby spuds and spring cabbage but I'm kind of wishing I'd done about 4 kilos of mash.

Thursday - Parmesan Roast Chicken with Cauliflower and Thyme

In contrast I'd struggle to explain why I chose this dish out of all the other chicken ones available (there's even a Burmese one, riffing from the Naomi Duguid book we have - how did we resist that?) but I think the heart of it was when everything looks so very good, it can be a trigger to go somewhere you wouldn't ordinarily go.

Plus, the vegbox had delivered a LOT of cauliflower.

Like the sausage (OMG the sausage) dish above, this is basically a one-roasting-tin dish and in many ways I think the two recipes encapsulate what Simple is all about. There's little buggering around here - just the understanding that a little thought and attention, a few well-considered flavourings, can take the ordinary and turn it into a massive cliche.

So, chicken, spuds (not sweet, thank the lord), onions. Appropriately seasoned and roasted, topped with parmesan and roasted some more. Another one for a miserable evening when you can wait an hour or so for dinner because there's a good bottle on the go in the meantime.

Mrs Robot absolutely loved this, by the way, though she rejects the term Chick'n'Caul'n'Cheese.

Friday - Pork Chops with Mustard and Capers
This was the one I'd been looking forward to the most, since it's one of my favourite ways of cooking that perversely I've completely overlooked over the last few years. It is, in short, that classic French technique which (I believe) Escoffier codified as, "Put lumpy stuff in the pan until it's brown; put runny stuff in the pan until it's lumpy".

In this case the lumpy stuff is pork chops (and may I say how much I love the book just for having a chapter called Chops and Sausages), and the runny stuff is cream, vermouth, Dijon and capers.

At the risk of attempting double-insight, this too is Simple at its very best: one pan; maybe 20 minutes or so to make; ingredients you can probably get from a bloody petrol station these days; an old-fashioned (or perhaps unfashionably straightforward) technique that gives staggering pleasure. This is  the recipe I've used most, not in the following, but in the process. I've done any number of chops, or steak, or sausage, or fish, in a way I'd almost forgotten about. If nothing else, I'll be forever grateful to Diana Henry for that reminder.

Saturday - Orange-Oregano Roast Chicken, Olive Gremolata
Yeah, so I told a weeny fib earlier - I had to do at least two of the chickens. But like the Parmesan this is sort of outside my normal sphere. Mrs Robot raised an eyebrow but to me the it just screamed JOLLY EXCITING, and I was in charge.

I think I expected it to be Taste of Seville, which on reflection is stupid because the taste of Seville is jamon and jerez and other things beginning with j-pronounced-h. The oranges are only fit for marmalade and chicken is probably the protein they're least excited about. The element you're most likely to find is olives, and those as a standalone snack.

But don't take that to mean I was disappointed: this was a lovely, complex, multilayered dish and for that reason I think I prefer to the parmesan roast above. Or, as I write this on a sunny evening with a Bank Holiday looming, perhaps it just calls more to me now.

Sunday - Poorly a la Stallards
Told you so

This has been half-written for some months now and since then we've done any number of other things, not least the Balinese Pork which is oh-my-golly good. But one of the core premises of a book like Simple is that's everyday cooking and, implicit within that, Every Day cooking.

Well it was only for a week (good enough for BBC science programmes) but I did use it every day and by god we ate well, and with precious little fuss. There's a lot in the book we don't happen to have (pomegranate molasses haven't made it here either) but as I hope I made clear, there was equally a load of recipes suited for what was kicking around.

I have particular love of and gratitude for the double-page of sauces & relishes, which serves as either guide for dinner or starting point for play, depending on your mood. Looking at our recent cookbooks, this seems quite an old-fashioned thing to do; in some ways it's quite an old-fashioned book, though accommodating the huge growth in ingredients and cuisines that make us so lucky to be living now.

I can't tell you how much I love Simple. If you don't already own it, go and buy it now.

All images (c) PP Gettins

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Something fresh!

By: Mrs Robot

We're still around and still cooking - but as it's been three months since I last posted anything, I thought I'd better put something up. Anything.

It's been culinary sadtimes in the House of Robots, as our beloved butcher has closed its Trowbridge branch. We always thought it was a bit odd that a butcher as prestigious as Walter Rose had their second store in Trow, and over the past decade business in the town has slowed to the point where they're focussing on the restaurant trade. They're keeping their shop in Devizes, though, so we're taking a weekly drive over there now.

Leaving aside my sadness about what this means for my town - every time an essential shop closes, all the others lose a little more business - it is nice going to the Devizes branch, as business there is brisker so they have much more stock in the shop; among the things we got this week were smoked mutton and smoked chicken. There's also a fish counter at the Devizes branch (it had to be preordered in Trowbridge, which we were never organised enough to do) and it's been enjoyable having that as an option.

These prawns were absolute monsters, and we wanted to do them justice, so Mr Robot did them following Meera Sodha's tamarind and honey prawn recipe from her book Made In India. Served on vegetable cous cous with a cucumber and yoghurt raita, they were refreshing and delicious. We'll definitely be having them again!

Sunday, 15 January 2017

A Mumbai feast

Dhansak and cachumbarIt's a while after new year, but I thought I'd write about our New Year's Day meal anyway. (Didn't want to do another post too soon after Mr Robot's last one, you might have run away in shock at two in a week.)

Mr Robot gave me a couple of cookbooks for Christmas: Mr Todiwala's Bombay, by Cyrus Todiwala, and Fortnum and Mason: The Cook Book. I don't know if I'd have picked up the Todiwala book myself, but it's really good. My go-to Indian recipe books tend to be by Anjum Anand and Meera Sodha. Meera Sodha is a particular favourite because her food has personality; you can really see how her family history and the ingredients around her in Britain have impacted on her cooking. Mr Todiwala's Bombay also has personality in spades. There's a real sense of place and of the mix of cultures that make up Mumbai as he shares the food that he loves: the street food that everyone eats, restaurant food, and the sort of thing families eat at home. I wanted to go to Mumbai anyhow as I love art deco and it's got some of the finest art deco buildings in the world, but now I want to go there for the food too!

A dish of cachumbar
I decided to make a proper dhansak (or dhaansaak as it's spelled in the book), as made by the Parsee community that Cyrus Todiwalla is part of.

Dhansaks are a curryhouse staple here in the UK, but this was very different from the oily stuff they serve up. You start by making the spicy lamb, which is then added to a pot of dal. I found the dal particularly unusual compared to ones I've made in the past as it contains fresh dill and plenty of sugar – I guess that shows the Persian roots of the Parsee people. The dal is supposed to be pureed smooth, and I did that this time but in future I might leave some of the lentils intact for a bit more texture and visual interest. There's a low ratio of lamb-to-dal. I was really worried about how all the flavours would turn out, as the mix was so unfamiliar to me, but it still tasted like 'a curry' to me, just with different herbal notes to what I'd usually expect. And that's one of the reasons I like making Indian food at home - bought ones always seem to lack the fresh flavour of the herbs.

A bowl of brown onion pulao with sheekh kebab balls on top
A gorgeous brown caramelised onion pulao, seekh kebab balls (raising the amount of meat in the meal to a level carnivores will be happy with), and cachumbar make delicious accompaniments. I'd happily make all three of those to accompany other things. Every Indian chef I own a cookbook by has a recipe for cachumbar; Todiwalla's is heavier on the onion than the others that I've seen but it works really well with the sweet, lentil-heavy dhansak. And usually when a recipe 'serves four to six' there's really enough for two greedy robots plus a little leftover. Not here! Even by our standards this recipe easily serves six. I've put two meals' worth of dhansak, pulao and kebab balls in the freezer.

The Fortnum cookbook is an oddity. I must confess, while I know Tom Parker-Bowles is a food writer, I've never read any of his food writing, I only know him as 'that bloke whose mum is the future Princess Consort.' Mr Robot got it for me because I love the funny old shop, and the history of things, and this book contains little bits of Fort Noms' history. It's also stuffed with illustrations from the company catalogues of the 1930s and 1950s. I'm not sure how I feel about a lot of the recipes in the book as they're really very simple and I have similar elsewhere, though in their simplicity they do mean you need to use the very finest ingredients – replace butter with marge and it'll be all too obvious.
Raspberry trifle

I made the raspberry trifle. I did vary things slightly, using cream rather than milk for the custard, and making a fresh raspberry compote rather than using jam. You're supposed to layer it jam, sponge with chambord, raspberries, custard, whipped cream, sponge with chambord, raspberries, custard, whipped cream, but I have a wide dish rather than a tall one so the layers came out a bit scanty. I left out the middle layer of cream and had a mere drizzle for the second layer of custard, so I think if I made it again I'd use far fewer sponges and only one layer of each ingredient. Still, it was jolly nice. Not over-fussy, just a tasty, creamy, fruity treat.

So, that was our New Year's Day meal. I hope yours was as good, and wish you all the best for the rest of 2017.